Cranberry Wreath Cake is a luscious chocolate cake covered in sweet vanilla buttercream and is perfect for the holidays or any winter celebration. A crown of fresh rosemary and sugared cranberries makes a stunning finishing touch.

A slice of cranberry wreath cake on a plate with a fork.

A Christmas dessert that’s perfect for the chocolate lovers. Make it for anyone who would skip a slice of pumpkin pie or say “no thanks” to the shortbread cookies.

The layers are made with deep, dark chocolate cake using your best cocoa and a tiny bit of instant espresso; easy and super moist. The whole cake is slathered in a snowy, fluffy vanilla buttercream that’s easy to make up to a week ahead of time.

Table of Contents
  1. Recipe ingredients
  2. Ingredient notes
  3. Step-by-step instructions
  4. Recipe tips and variations
  5. Cranberry Wreath Cake Recipe
  6.  

Recipe ingredients

Labeled cranberry wreath cake ingredients in various bowls.

Ingredient notes

  • Cocoa powder: We tested this recipe with both Dutch-processed cocoa and natural cocoa and enjoyed the results of both with a slight preference for the cake using Dutch-processed cocoa. (The Dutch-processed cocoa also gave the cake a darker color).
  • Instant espresso powder: A little instant espresso helps intensify the chocolate. It’s usually sold in small jars at the grocery store. Do not use ground espresso or coffee because they don’t dissolve and will give the cake unwanted texture.
  • Fresh cranberries: For a glittery, edible garnish. These get sugared and placed on the top of the cake before serving.
  • Floral wire: A few lengths of wire help coax the rosemary into the wreath shape. Find what you need at floral shops, hobby and craft stores, or online (Culinary Hill may earn money if you buy through this link).
  • Rosemary sprigs: Look for fresh rosemary which is pliable and beautifully fragrant.

Step-by-step instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat 2 round cake pans with nonstick spray, line with parchment, and then spray again. Whisk the flour, cocoa, instant espresso, baking soda, and salt together in a bowl. Cream the butter and sugar together on medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat the eggs in, one at a time, and then add the vanilla. Turn the mixer speed to low and mix in about ⅓ of the dry ingredients, then half of the milk. Then mix in half of what’s left of the dry ingredients, followed by the rest of the milk. Add the remaining dry ingredients, and give the batter a stir or two to make sure everything is incorporated well.
    Cake batter for cranberry wreath cake in a silver mixing bowl.
  2. Divide the batter into the two prepared cake pans, and smooth the tops. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, rotating the pans at the halfway point for even baking. The cakes are ready to come out when you insert a wooden toothpick into the center of the cake and it comes out clean, with a crumb or two still attached.
    Round chocolate cakes in silver pans before being baked.
  3. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then run the tip of a sharp knife around the inside edge of each pan and invert the cakes onto wire racks. Peel off the parchment, and flip the cakes right-side-up on the racks to cool completely.
    Two round chocolate cakes on a cooling rack.
  4. To make the buttercream, beat the softened butter on medium-high speed until fluffy, at least 3 minutes. Don’t hurry here; the goal is to incorporate lots of air into the butter.
    Buttercream frosting in a silver mixing bowl.
  5. Turn the mixer speed down to low and add 4 cups of the powdered sugar, cream, vanilla, and salt. Continue to mix until the frosting is smooth, at least 2 to 3 minutes.
    Buttercream frosting in a silver mixing bowl.
  6. Once the ingredients are mixed, take a look at the consistency. If it’s a little too thin for your liking, add more powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, mixing between additions until it’s thick enough. But if the frosting is too thick, add a splash of cream (or milk) and mix. It’s okay to keep the frosting out at room temperature if you plan on assembling the cake right away. Otherwise, pop the bowl into the refrigerator until you’re ready, then let it come to room temperature before you start frosting.
    A bowl of buttercream frosting.
  7. To make the sugared cranberries, make a simple syrup by heating 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water in a saucepan until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and stir the fresh cranberries into the syrup.
    Cranberries in a silver pot.
  8. Pour the remaining sugar into a shallow bowl for rolling. Using a slotted spoon, lift the cranberries out of the syrup and into the granulated sugar. Toss them gently so they’re coated, then move them to a wire rack and let them dry for at least an hour.
    Cranberries being coated in a clear bowl filled with sugar.
  9. Make sure the cake layers are completely cool before frosting. If you need to, carefully trim off any unevenness from the tops using a serrated knife. Place the first layer on a cake plate or stand. Spread about 1 cup of frosting over the cake (an offset spatula makes this easier) and just past the edges. This will make coating the sides faster and easier. Position the second cake on top of the frosting and spread 1 ½ cups of buttercream over the top layer.
    Someone spreading frosting on a chocolate cake.
  10. Then use the rest of the frosting to cover the sides of the cake.
    A frosted cranberry wreath cake before being decorated.
  11. Making the rosemary wreath is easier than it looks. Carefully twist a length of floral wire around two sprigs of rosemary, end-to-end.
    Someone forming a wreath out of rosemary with floral wire.
  12. Repeat as needed, layering the sprigs over each other to hide the wire, until you have a strand that’s long enough to fit around the top edge of the cake. Secure the two ends together to form the wreath.
    Fresh rosemary formed into a wreath with floral wire.
  13. Decorate the cake just before presenting. Position the rosemary wreath on the top of the cake. Then pile the sugared cranberries inside the wreath. If you have enough, arrange an even row of berries around the bottom of the layer cake, too.
A cranberry wreath cake on a granite cake platter.

Recipe tips and variations

  • Spray-paper-spray: No one wants cakes that stick to the pan and you won’t, with these 3 steps. Spray the insides of the pan with nonstick spray, and line the pan with a piece of parchment paper. Then spray the parchment paper with nonstick spray.
  • Yield: We’re hoping for 12 generous slices, but you may get more (or less) depending on how you cut.
  • Storage: This cake is best served at room temperature, so the buttercream melts in your mouth.
  • Cranberries: If you make the cranberries ahead, store them in an airtight container with a small bowl of uncooked rice next to them (to absorb moisture) for up to 3 days, or freeze in a single layer on a sheet tray.  Roll in more sugar if they become sticky and let them dry.
  • Make ahead: Make the buttercream frosting up to a week ahead of time; cover and refrigerate. When ready to spread, let the frosting come to room temperature, beating with a splash of milk if needed to get the desired consistency. Wrap the (unfrosted) cake layers tightly in plastic; they are fine at room temperature for 1 day. If you want to freeze them, wrap them in plastic and foil and freeze for up to 1 month. Defrost at room temperature before assembling and frosting the cake.
  • Other decorations: This cake is just as pretty with a sprig or two of evergreen boughs cut off the tree and a few fresh cranberries placed on the top. Or a bit of fresh holly. For an edible garnish, try fresh raspberries which can be sliced and eaten with the cake.
Two slices of cranberry wreath cake with sugared cranberries as a garnish.

More cakes to bake

A slice of cranberry wreath cake on a plate with a fork.

Cranberry Wreath Cake

Cranberry Wreath Cake is a luscious chocolate cake covered in sweet vanilla buttercream and is perfect for the holidays or any winter celebration. A crown of fresh rosemary and sugared cranberries makes a stunning finishing touch.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 35 mins
Cook Time 55 mins
Drying and Cooling Time 1 hr
Total Time 2 hrs 30 mins
Servings 12 servings
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Calories 916

Ingredients 

For the chocolate cake:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder (see note 1)
  • 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder or instant coffee (see note 2)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup butter softened (1 ½ sticks)
  • 1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk

For the buttercream frosting:

  • 1 cup butter softened (2 sticks)
  • 4 to 5 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • pinch salt optional

For the sugared cranberries:

  • 4 cups granulated sugar divided
  • 1 (12-ounce) bag fresh cranberries (see note 3)

For the rosemary wreath:

  • 5 to 10 pieces floral wire cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces (see note 4)
  • 5 to 10 sprigs fresh rosemary pliable (see note 5)

Instructions 

For the chocolate cake:

  • Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare two 8-inch or 9-inch round cake pans with non-stick spray. Line the bottoms with parchment paper, and spray again with non-stick spray.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, instant espresso, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of a standing mixer fit with the whisk attachment on medium speed, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 to 6 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time into the mixture until incorporated, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Beat in the vanilla.
  • With the mixer speed reduced to low, beat in one-third of the flour mixture, then half of the milk. Beat in half of the remaining flour, then the remaining milk. Beat in the remaining flour mixture. Using a rubber spatula, give the batter a final stir to ensure the mixture is thoroughly combined.
  • Divide the batter evenly between both pans, smoothing the tops. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out dry with a few crumbs attached, 35 to 40 minutes. Rotate the pans halfway through baking time.
  • Cool the cakes in the pans for 10 minutes. Run a small sharp knife around the inside of each pan to loosen, then flip the cakes onto a wire rack. Peel off the parchment paper then flip the cakes right side up to cool completely, about 1 to 2 hours. Cool the cakes completely before frosting.

To make the buttercream frosting:

  • In a standing mixer fit with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed, cream butter until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  • Reduce mixer speed to low. Add 4 cups powdered sugar, cream, vanilla, and salt (if using). Continue mixing 2 to 3 minutes longer. If the frosting seems too soft, add the remaining powdered sugar 2 tablespoons at a time.
  • Cover and refrigerate the frosting until assembling the cake.

To make the sugared cranberries:

  • In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water, stirring until the sugar is dissolved, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in cranberries until well coated.
  • Using a slotted spoon, gently transfer cranberries to a wire rack and allow to dry, at least 1 hour.
  • Place remaining sugar in a medium bowl, and working in small batches, roll cranberries until well coated. Allow to dry, about 1 hour.

To make the rosemary wreath:

  • Using floral wire, tie rosemary end to end, working in the same direction, until long enough to create a 7-inch diameter round wreath, about 22 inches. Using remaining wire, secure end of the final sprig to the first securely.

To assemble the cake:

  • Using a serrated knife, cut tops of cake to level. Place one layer on cake stand or plate. Using an offset spatula, evenly spread layer of buttercream frosting over the top of the cake. Top with remaining cake.
  • Scoop large dollops of remaining buttercream onto sides and top of cake. Using offset spatula, smooth tops and sides. Refrigerate cake 30 minutes to firm frosting.
  • Place prepared rosemary wreath on top of cake. Arrange cranberries around bottom of cake to create border, and arrange remaining cranberries on top of cake as desired.

Notes

  1. Cocoa powder: We tested this recipe with both Dutch processed cocoa and natural cocoa and enjoyed the results (the Dutch processed cocoa gave the cake a darker color).
  2. Instant espresso powder: A little instant espresso helps intensify the chocolate.It’s usually sold in small jars at the grocery store. Do not use ground espresso or coffee because they don’t dissolve and will give the cake unwanted texture. 
  3. Fresh cranberries: For a glittery, edible garnish. These get sugared and placed on the top of the cake before serving.
  4. Floral wire: A few lengths of wire help coax the rosemary into the wreath shape. Find what you need at floral shops, hobby and craft stores, or online (Culinary Hill may earn money if you buy through this link).
  5. Rosemary sprigs: Look for fresh rosemary which is pliable and beautifully fragrant.
  6. Spray-paper-spray: No one wants cakes that stick to the pan and you won’t, with these 3 steps. Spray the insides of the pan with nonstick spray, and line the pan with a piece of parchment paper. Then spray the parchment paper with nonstick spray.
  7. Yield: We’re hoping for 12 generous slices, but you may get more (or less) depending on how you cut.
  8. Storage: This cake is best served at room temperature, so the buttercream melts in your mouth.
  9. Cranberries: If you make the cranberries ahead, store them in an airtight container with a small bowl of uncooked rice next to them (to absorb moisture) for up to 3 days, or freeze in a single layer on a sheet tray.  Roll in more sugar if they become sticky and let them dry.
  10. Make ahead: Make the buttercream frosting up to a week ahead of time; cover and refrigerate. When ready to spread, let the frosting come to room temperature, beating with a splash of milk if needed to get desired consistency. Wrap the (unfrosted) cake layers tightly in plastic; they are fine at room temperature for 1 day. If you want to freeze them, wrap them in plastic and foil and freeze for up to 1 month. Defrost at room temperature before assembling and frosting the cake.
  11. Other decorations: This cake is just as pretty with a sprig or two of evergreen boughs cut off the tree and a few fresh cranberries placed on the top. Or a bit of fresh holly. For an edible garnish, try fresh raspberries which can be sliced and eaten with the cake.

Nutrition

Serving: 1sliceCalories: 916kcalCarbohydrates: 157gProtein: 7gFat: 32gSaturated Fat: 20gCholesterol: 143mgSodium: 512mgPotassium: 185mgFiber: 2gSugar: 137gVitamin A: 1040IUCalcium: 65mgIron: 2mg
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Comments

  1. Under Notes, you wrote: Cocoa powder: We tested this recipe with both Dutch processed cocoa and natural cocoa and enjoyed the results (the Dutch processed cocoa gave the cake a darker color).

    …enjoyed the result of which one? You didn’t finish your sentence? Was it both? or one or the other?